At a Glance

Hours: Daylight hours year-round. The sanctuary is located in a residential area and care should be taken to avoid disturbing the neighbors.

Cost: Free. Donations to the MOS Sanctuary Fund are always appreciated.

Tips: Wear sturdy waterproof footwear as the ground may be muddy and there are several stream crossings (no bridges). ◾ Be alert for timber rattlesnakes, black bears, and bobcats. ◾ Hunting is not permitted on sanctuary grounds, but may take place on neighboring lands. Be aware of hunting seasons and plan your visit accordingly. Wear blaze orange during hunting season. ◾ No restrooms.

Best Seasons: Spring and fall migration and early summer for breeding birds. May be inaccessible in winter.

Breeding Bird Atlas Block: Deer Park CE (Click on Atlas Block name for list of breeding birds from 1st and 2nd Atlases). Read about the MD & DC Breeding Bird Atlases.

Local MOS Chapter: Allegany-Garrett Bird Club

Caroline W. Wilson MOS Sanctuary

No road frontage; nearest house is farm at 174 Altamont Tower Road, Oakland, MD 21561
MOS Voice Mail: 301-588-4250

Caroline W. Wilson MOS Sanctuary is an 85.8-acre tract of woodland that protects the valley of the Little Youghiogheny River in its headwaters area. The sanctuary is located in Garrett County, south of Deep Creek Lake and near the small settlements of Deer Creek and Altamont, at an altitude of about 2,530 feet. This western-most part of Maryland lies in the Mississippi River watershed, not the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The sanctuary is landlocked, with no road frontage; it lies within a hairpin turn of the CSX railroad tracks, and the tracks form the sanctuary’s northern and western boundary. The sanctuary can be accessed on foot via the railroad tracks. The neighboring property to the west and south contains a 10-acre impoundment called the Little Youghiogheny River Reservoir; this large, wooded property is owned by the Deer Park Spring Water Company and is leased by a local hunting club. To the north, across the railroad tracks, are working farms, and another working farm is located to the east, near where we enter the sanctuary. The small communities of Altamont and Wilson are located  a short distance to the east.

The main stem of the Little Youghiogheny River (despite its name, more of a creek in size, 3 to 6 feet wide) flows from north to south-southwest through a broad floodplain that is the heart of the sanctuary. In addition, there are several unnamed tributary streams flowing west and east into the Little Youghiogheny. A shrubby palustrine wetland associated with the Little Youghiogheny occupies about 9 acres in the south part of the sanctuary.

With the exception of the wetland area, the majority of the sanctuary is wooded, mostly with deciduous hardwoods such as beech, maple and oak; at the southwest corner there is a dense stand of hemlocks that extends into the Deer Park Spring Water property. There is good groundcover that includes ferns and spring ephemerals, and well-developed shrub and understory layers.

The remnants of an old road, at one time paved with cobble, runs through the sanctuary parallel to the railroad tracks. The old road can be accessed from the tracks via three or four trails that run down the embankment (see Directions below). Along the old road, there are several stream crossings (no bridges) and although the streams are not wide, the banks can be muddy and a couple of the banks are steep, so be prepared by wearing waterproof footwear and perhaps carrying a hiking staff. There are no obvious side trails, but near the southwest border of the sanctuary, there is a faint foot-trail, probably a deer trail, that heads south from the main trail toward the hemlock stand and the wetland.

The vegetation in parts of the sanctuary is dense, so it’s a good idea to carry a GPS unit or use a GPS app on your smart phone to keep from accidentally misplacing yourself. The Geolocator Map at the link at left is ready to load into a GPS app such as Avenza; when used in a GPS app, the Geolocator Map will show you where you are relative to the sanctuary boundaries and main trail. Note that GPS mapping apps use satellite signals and will work even if there is no good cell phone signal, but may not function well under heavy tree cover.

Local people have been using the old road in the sanctuary as a dirt bike and ATV trail and for deer hunting access. Although this is not an ideal situation, the road would grow over or be blocked by deadfalls without their intervention. And, as a bonus, the local people are helping to control the abundant deer population. As such, MOS has developed a symbiotic relationship with the local people.

Note: On some maps, it can be seen that the old road in the sanctuary is an eastward extension of Calderwood Road, which runs due east out of the community of Deer Park. However, the sanctuary cannot be accessed from Calderwood Road, as the road comes to a locked gate at the private property of the Deer Park Spring Water Company near their reservoir west of the sanctuary, and the property is marked “No Trespassing.” Also be aware that the Deer Park Spring Water property is leased to a hunting club and is actively used for hunting, so be aware of hunting seasons in planning your visit, and wear blaze orange if you visit in fall or winter.

The sanctuary is named for Caroline W. Wilson, a member of a large family that had settled in this area in the early 1800s. Caroline eventually came to own several hundred acres of the family land, and after her death on December 23, 1987, her nephew and executor Robert L. Wilson donated the sanctuary land to the Nature Conservancy as a memorial to his aunt. In turn, in 1988, the Nature Conservancy transferred the land to MOS , with the stipulation that it be used as a nature preserve and kept in its natural state.

Historical Note: According to records held by the Maryland Historical Trust (https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/medusa/PDF/Garrett/G-IV-B-101.pdf), Caroline W. Wilson was a descendant of Thomas Wilson II, who fought in the Revolutionary War and who settled his family on farmland just a short distance east of the sanctuary, near the settlement named for him on Old Wilson Road. Thomas Wilson’s log house, built circa 1813-1824, is listed with the Maryland Historical Trust, as is another house on the same property, built by a descendant in 1868. Caroline W. Wilson became the owner of the historic Old Wilson Farm property in 1978, and it passed to her nephew Robert L. Wilson upon her death. The Old Wilson Farm was sold in 2019 and is now owned by non-Wilsons for the first time in over 200 years.

Birdlife:

As of February 2021, 86 species from 19 checklists have been reported at the public eBird hotspot for Caroline W. Wilson Sanctuary.  There may be a few more additional species in personal records of birders who visited the sanctuary prior to the establishment of eBird. With the small number of submitted checklists, our description of the sanctuary’s birdlife is necessarily preliminary. The sanctuary is under-birded and our understanding of birdlife at the sanctuary would be improved by submission of additional eBird checklists throughout the year, although care must be taken if visiting during deer season.

Canada Geese and Mallards may be present on the Little Youghiogheny or as flyovers from the Deer Park Spring Water reservoir or other local ponds and fields. Wood Ducks use the wetland near the south end of the sanctuary.

Wild Turkeys are numerous in the area, and Ruffed Grouse have been reported. Rock Pigeons are found at the nearby farms, and Mourning Doves are abundant in the sanctuary’s woods. Both Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos are present in the summer, and the Yellow-billeds are breeders. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are often reported from May through early September.

Killdeer is the only representative of the shorebirds that may be present, and these most likely would be flyovers from nearby farm fields or ponds.

Turkey Vultures are common. Broad-winged and Red-Tailed Hawks have been reported at the sanctuary. Broad-winged is a confirmed breeding bird in the Deer Park CE Atlas block and visitors to the sanctuary should be alert for it during breeding season.

Woodpeckers include Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, Pileated, and Northern Flicker. Both Tree and Barn Swallows are possible flyovers from breeding areas on nearby farms, as are European Starlings.

Flycatchers that have been reported at the sanctuary include Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian, Alder, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, and Eastern Kingbird. Alder Flycatcher is a confirmed breeding species for the Deer Park CE Atlas block and could conceivably be nesting in the sanctuary’s wetland. All three vireos may be found – Red-eyed, White-eyed, and Blue-headed. Blue Jays, American Crows, and Common Ravens are conspicuously present.

Black-capped Chickadees – not Carolina – are present and likely breed here, along with Tufted Titmice. Golden-crowned Kinglets, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are also possible breeders. Both House and Carolina Wrens are common. Winter Wren has not yet been reported from the sanctuary but is likely to occur. Both Gray Catbirds and Northern Mockingbirds are present – the catbirds are common breeders in the area but the mockingbirds are sparsely scattered in the neighborhood and have not often been recorded at the sanctuary.

Five species of thrushes – Eastern Bluebird, Veery, Hermit Thrush, Wood Thrush, and American Robin – are all known to breed in the area and possibly at the sanctuary itself. Cedar Waxwings are common from June through August.

House Finches and American Goldfinches both occur, with the goldfinches as probable breeders. The House Finches breed in the larger area but are not frequently reported at the sanctuary.

House Sparrows probably breed at the sanctuary or at the neighboring farms. Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows, and Eastern Towhees likely breed at the sanctuary, and Field Sparrows can be heard singing from nearby farms. Dark-eyed Juncos have not been reported at the sanctuary during breeding season but are a confirmed breeding species in the Breeding Bird Atlas block to the immediate east (Kitzmiller CW block).

Eastern Meadowlarks, Orchard Orioles, and Baltimore Orioles all occur in the vicinity of the sanctuary. Red-winged Blackbirds can be found in the wetland along with Common Grackles. Brown-headed Cowbirds also are present.

Among warblers, the following are likely or confirmed breeders at the sanctuary: Ovenbird, Black-and-white, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Yellow, Chestnut-sided. Magnolia, Black-throated Green, and Black-throated Blue have been reported at the sanctuary and are probable breeders within the Deer Park CE atlas block, so it is possible they breed at the sanctuary. Additional warblers that have been reported during migration include Worm-eating, Tennessee, Cape May, Bay-breasted, Blackburnian, Blackpoll, and Pine.

The sanctuary’s breeding birds are rounded out by Scarlet Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Indigo Bunting.

Pet Policy:

Pets are allowed on leash; be prepared to pick up after your pet. Please do not allow your dog to run off leash as there are many dogs on the neighboring properties and some may not be friendly.

Wheelchair Access:

The sanctuary is not accessible by wheelchair or walker.

Special Designations and Conservation Value:

The Caroline W. Wilson Sanctuary is not within a designated Important Bird Area, but is located only about 5 miles from the boundaries of both the Youghiogheny Valley Important Bird Area (IBA) and the Pleasant Valley IBA, as designated by the National Audubon Society.

Caroline W. Wilson Sanctuary lies within an area classified by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as a Targeted Ecological Area. Targeted Ecological Areas are lands and watersheds identified by the DNR as the most ecologically valuable areas in the State; they are considered the “Best of the Best” and receive priority for conservation by the State. For more information on how DNR prioritizes land for conservation, see the DNR information sheet “GreenPrint Lands Are Important.”

The sanctuary is in an area categorized by DNR as a Green Infrastructure Wildlife Hub, but DNR has identified some gaps in the sanctuary’s Green Infrastructure near the railroad tracks, where the habitat has been disturbed. Green Infrastructure identifies the State’s remaining large blocks of forest and wetlands (hubs) and the habitat pathways (corridors) that connect them. The entire sanctuary lies with an area identified by DNR as important for Forest Interior Dwelling Species.For more information on how DNR prioritizes land for conservation, see the DNR information sheet “GreenPrint Lands Are Important.”

The sanctuary is in a Sensitive Species Project Review Area, meaning that any planned development or disruption of the habitat undergoes extra scrutiny by the state because of the presence of rare, threatened, or endangered species.  The wetlands in the south part of the sanctuary have been designated by the State of Maryland as “Wetlands of Special State Concern.” Such wetlands, with rare, threatened, or endangered species or unique habitat, receive special attention and protection under Maryland law.

The majority of the Caroline W. Wilson Sanctuary is located in an area classified by MD DNR as Tier 1 – Critically Significant for Biodiversity Conservation under their Bionet – Biological Diversity Conservation Network initiative. The remainder of the sanctuary, on its edges, is classified as Tier 3 – Highly Significant for Biodiversity Conservation.

MD DNR offers a Parcel Evaluation Tool that provides an analysis of conservation benefits for a particular parcel of land. Using this tool, Caroline W. Wilson Sanctuary scores

  • 5 stars out of 5 for providing “Habitat Connectivity.”
  • 5 stars out of 5 for providing “Rare Species and Wildlife Habitat.”
  • 3 stars out of 5 for “Support of Aquatic Life.”
  • 4 stars out of 5 for “Forests Important for Water Quality Protection.”
  • 3 stars out of 5 for “Proximity to Other Protected Lands,” presenting conservation opportunities that contribute to landscape scale protection which is key for conserving healthy aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

The parcel evaluation tool shows that the ecosystem services provided by Caroline W. Wilson Sanctuary are valued at $2,092.77 per acre per year, or $179,5598.67 per year for the entire 85+ acre tract.

Special Features

Nearby, Old Wilson Road goes past the Old Wilson Farm, the site of the original home of Caroline W. Wilson’s ancestors. The property, listed with the Maryland Historical Trust, is privately owned and not open to the public. However, it is worth visiting Old Wilson Road as there is good birding habitat on both sides of the road. The land is all privately owned, so bird only from the public roadway. To reach Old Wilson Road from the railroad tracks by the sanctuary, return to Altamont Tower Road, turning left to go north. At the T-intersection, turn right to go south on MD Route 135/Maryland Highway. In just 0.2 miles, bear left onto Old Wilson Road. A wooded wetland area is on the right (south) side of the road in about a half-mile. There are scattered stands of conifers along the road; check these out for warblers and other species. Old Wilson Road comes to a dead end at private property, so turn around and retrace your route to MD Route 135.

The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Allegany-Garrett Bird Club, offering field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public.
http://westernmdbirding.com/

Multimedia:

A brief virtual visit to Caroline W. Wilson Sanctuary, filmed by Dominic Nucifora of the MOS Sanctuary Committee, can be viewed on YouTube.

Parking:

Near the railroad tracks at the driveway to the farm at 174 Altamont Tower Road, Oakland, MD 21561. Pull your car entirely off the driveway and do not block the driveway or the railroad equipment and electrical boxes. There is room for four to six cars.

Directions:

Caroline W. Wilson MOS Sanctuary is located south of Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County, off of Altamont Tower Road. The sanctuary does not have frontage on any public road and must be accessed on foot via railroad tracks. On some maps, it may appear that Calderwood Road, which comes east out of the Deer Park community, could be used to access the sanctuary from the southwest; however, there is no access to the sanctuary from Calderwood Road because the public part of Calderwood Road ends at a locked gate and then the road passes onto private property. The only access is via the railroad tracks at the north end of the sanctuary.

If using a navigation system, set for 174 Altamont Tower Rd., Swanton, MD 21561.

  1. From I-68/US Route 40, take Exit 14 and go south on MD Route 219/Garrett Highway for approximately 20 miles, passing through McHenry and passing Deep Creek Lake. (See below for alternate route.)
  2. Turn left to go south on Sand Flat Road for 4.4 miles.
  3. Turn left to go east on MD Route 135/Maryland Highway for 2.6 miles.
  4. Note that in 2.6 miles, Route 135 makes a sharp right turn; turn right to follow MD Route 135 to the south.
  5. In just 0.3 miles, bear right onto Altamont Tower Road, and drive south about 700 feet, past a number of small residences.
  6. Watch for a driveway on the right (west side of the road), at #174. This driveway goes into a farm that abuts the MOS sanctuary. Turn right onto the driveway.
  7. In just 240 feet, the farm driveway crosses the railroad tracks. Park on the gravel at the railroad tracks, being sure not to block either the farm driveway or any railroad power boxes or other equipment.
  8. Needless to say: from this point on, observe extreme caution if a moving train is present.
  9. After parking, walk north along the railroad tracks to an obvious hairpin curve. The MOS sanctuary property starts here, on the left (south) side of the tracks, down a steep embankment. Note that the location of the Little Youghiogheny River, flowing underneath the tracks, is marked by white paint on the railroad ties and the land to the left (west) is within the sanctuary boundaries. Continue past this white mark and beyond the hairpin curve, now walking southwest on the railroad tracks.
  10. There are at least three trails that go down the railroad embankment on the left side of the tracks, offering access into the sanctuary. The three trails down the embankment are progressively less steep. We recommend proceeding to the third trail for the easiest access to the sanctuary main trail. The approximate GPS coordinates for the third trail are 39.431033, -79.292672.
  11. The sanctuary main trail runs northeast-southwest, roughly paralleling the railroad tracks and the Little Youghiogheny River. After descending the embankment and arriving at the main trail, turning left will take you to the north end of the sanctuary, and turning right will take you to the south end. There is no loop trail and no established side trails, but a faint deer trail near
  12. the southwest property line heads due south toward the hemlock stand and wetland area.
    The southwest end of the trail is at a gate into private property marked “No Trespassing.” Do not go pasts this point. Turn around and return to the railroad tracks.

Alternate Driving Route to Sanctuary:

  1. Alternatively, from I-68/US Route 40, take Exit 19 and go south on MD Route 495/Bittinger Road. This route is shorter than taking Route 219 as described above, but Route 495 has more turns and twists.
  2. In 9 miles, at a fork at Brenneman’s Store south of the town of Bittinger, bear left to stay on Route 495/Bittinger Road.
  3. Continue south on Route 495/Bittinger Road for another 10 miles.
  4. Turn right to go west on Swanton Road, which continues as Route 495, for 3.2 miles.
  5. Turn left to go south on MD Route 135/Maryland Highway.
  6. In just 0.3 miles, bear right onto Altamont Tower Road, and drive south about 700 feet, past a number of small residences.
  7. Watch for a driveway on the right (west side of the road), at #174. This driveway goes into a farm that abuts the MOS sanctuary. Turn right onto the driveway.
  8. In just 240 feet, the farm driveway crosses the railroad tracks. Park on the gravel at the railroad tracks, being sure not to block either the farm driveway or any railroad electrical boxes or other equipment.
  9. Needless to say: from this point on, observe extreme caution if a moving train is present.
  10. See #9-12 above for directions to walk into the sanctuary.

Nearby Sites:

Garrett County: Broadford Lake ◾ Carey Run MOS Sanctuary ◾ Cunningham Swamp Wildlife Management Area ◾ Finzel Swamp Preserve ◾ Herrington Manor State Park ◾ Loch Lynn Heights Wetland Trail ◾ Mt. Nebo Wildlife Management Area ◾ Piney Reservoir ◾ Swallow Falls State Park ◾ Youghiogheny River Reservoir

Habitats:

Bottomland DeciduousConifersUpland Deciduous Freshwater Marsh or FloodplainRivers & Streams

Features and Amenities:

Free - No Entry FeeHiking/Walking TrailsPets Allowed

Type:

MOS Sanctuaries